Monday, January 17, 2005

War with Iran

The Republicans are apparently preparing to destroy military targets in Iran with airstrikes. We seem to have sent commandos into the country to find targets. Invading Iran is impossible because our army and marines are tied up in Iraq fighting an insurgency among five million Sunnis. Iran has a population of about 67 million. Since an invasion won't work, the idea, it seems, is to destroy potential nuclear sites from the air. The U.S. can probably do this. The Israeli's did it to Iraq some time ago, and the U.S. has unrivaled air and sea power.

Before we attack, however, it might be a good idea to look at a map. Iran is perfectly positioned to make Iraq and Afganistan much, much more difficult for the U.S. and perhaps even cut off oil from the Mid-East.

Most of America's ground forces are tied up in Iraq fighting an insurgency in the Sunni Triangle. The Sunni Triangle has a population of perhaps five million. Further to the south, about 15 million Shia muslims have been fairly quiet. Iran is the center of the Shia branch of Islam and borders the Shia portion of Iraq. Furthermore, the most influential Shia muslim is the Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani. The party he backs will probably win the upcoming election, explaining why the Shias have been so quiet. Sistani was born in Iran and many candidates in the slate he supports have close ties to Iran.

If the U.S. attacks Iran, it is extremely likely that the Shia of Iraq will rise up against us. Iran will almost certainly support them over the long and porous border between the two countries. We are having a lot of trouble with five million Sunnis with no overt state support, how are we going to fare when 15 million Shias join them with heavy Iranian backing? We will probably lose militarily.

The Republicans seem to think that if we bomb Iran, the Iranian people will rise up against their oppressive religious leaders. I suppose it's possible, but in all of history no people have ever been bombed into regime change. It has always required ground forces. Furthermore, the immediate reaction of most peoples when bombed is to rally around thier leaders, even unpopular incompetant ones. Note that in Iraq the Republicans believed that they would face little opposition, and at first that seemed to be true. Saddam's army simply evaporated. Today, however, we face a determined, capable, and effective insurgency and our control of the Sunni Triangle is tenuous at best.

Then there's Afganistan. Iran helped the U.S. take over Afganistan. Iran had no love for the Taliban and was in a position to help because Iran and Afganistan have a long, poorly controlled common border. This same border is perfect for supplying an insurgency. To date, it does not appear that Iran has helped the Afan insurgents much in spite of friction with the U.S. If we attack Iran, that will certainly change. We should assume that Afganistan will become much more difficult to control requiring far more U.S. troops.

Most of the oil from the Mid-East passes through the Persian Gulf. Persia is basically another word for Iran. Iran borders the Persian Gulf for hundreds of miles. Tankers taking oil from the gulf must pass through the Strait of Hormuz at the end of the Persian Gulf. About 90% of Persian Gulf oil takes this route. The Straight of Hormuz is quite narrow. Iranians are quite clever. There's a good chance they'll find a way to close the straight if they find themselves at war with the U.S. Technically, of course, we're at war with Iran now since sending commandos into the country is an act of war. Whether it becomes an active, hot war depends on the Republicans who control Washington.

The Republicans are thinking about going to war with Iran. They have apparently already committed acts of war. We are still fighting in both Iraq and Afganistan. Great generals divide their enemies and destroy them one piece of at a time. Hilter lost the Second World War by taking on Russia before finishing Britian off. We were stupid to attack Iraq before finishing the job in Afganistan. Attacking Iran before winning in Iraq and Afganistan is monumentally stupid.

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